If new Sunset Hills election called, contest could be in November

Election board delays consideration of proposed election reforms

Richard Gau

Photo by (c) 2012ColinMiller

Richard Gau

By Gloria Lloyd

If a judge orders a new election for the Sunset Hills Ward 1 Board of Aldermen seat, the contest could now be held in November at the earliest since deadlines have passed for August.

Attorneys for the county Board of Election Commissioners announced at last week’s election board meeting that Sunset Hills board President Richard Gau was finally served last week with the election board’s lawsuit requesting a do-over of the April 5 election. Gau defeated former Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy by 73 votes in the contest. Hardy contends that the countywide ballot shortages that plagued two of Ward 1’s three precincts cast enough doubt on the race to merit a new election.

The election board voted unanimously May 10 to ask a judge to hold the Ward 1 race over, along with the mayoral contest in Berkeley. That decision went against the recommendation of Election Director Eric Fey and former Director Gary Fuhr, who found that the voters turned away would not have made a difference in Sunset Hills.

Election officials said when they took the vote that they hoped to get a quick decision to hold a special election alongside the Aug. 2 state primary and noted that judges place a priority on hearing election-related cases. But the election board relied on sheriff’s deputies to serve Gau and Hardy, and deputies do not place election-related summons at the top of their priority list, election attorneys said.

Weeks after the vote had been taken and the lawsuit had been filed, Gau and Hardy told the Call they had still not been served.

Hardy was served May 28. It took five attempts to serve Gau, after an initial attempt failed because sheriff’s deputies had his address off by one number, election board attorney Darold Crotzer said.

Gau previously told the Call that he’ll fight the order for a new election, but at the Call’s press time, no hearing had been scheduled.

Meanwhile, the election board postponed consideration of a package of reforms proposed by Commissioner John Maupin for a month since Commissioner John King was only able to attend the June 21 meeting by phone. Maupin requested the delay, since he wanted King to be able to participate in the conversation.

Since Fuhr retired in May, Fey has been joined by interim Election Director Christian Tolbert, formerly the deputy election director. Tolbert has worked for the election board since 1995, serving as a senior clerk, warehouse supervisor, assistant director and, since 2013, deputy director.

For nearly two decades, the county has rented office space for the election board in Sunnen Business Park in Maplewood.

But 2nd District Councilman Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, announced last week that the county is striking a deal to expand the election headquarters and move it along with two other departments to the site of the former Northwest Plaza mall in St. Ann, now redeveloped for retail and offices as The Crossings at Northwest.

Page introduced legislation last week for the County Council to approve a 20-year lease that would cost roughly the same as the county spends on rent now, but for more space. Compared to renting at the same square-footage rate as it does now, that will save the county $10 million on the lease over 20 years, he said.